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Cross-border tensions

The “urban planning chaos” reigns in many border areas between St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Spontaneous development, when houses are built almost in an open field, increases the load on the roads, polyclinics and kindergartens in the suburban areas of St. Petersburg. If the population on the border of the two entities will continue to grow uncontrollably, it could threaten infrastructure collapse.

The old problem of cross-border development of the two entities of the federation was discussed in the press centre “BaltInfo” by representatives of the faction “Fair Russia” in the urban and regional legislative councils. Deputies drew attention to the fact that over recent years the development of infrastructure has been desperately trying to catch up with the pace of construction of new housing in the area of Leningrad Region.

Olga Frolova, Lead Analyst of Surveyor International Group, recalled that the territory located within the radius of 30 kilometers from St. Petersburg is home to about 800 thousand people, which is about 45% of the whole Region’s population. And if all the announced investment projects in this area will be implemented, there will be a population increase of 2.5 million people. It is clear that this is unlikely, but even a more modest population growth could cause many problems.

“Projects that are being implemented at the border with St. Petersburg are high-density planning of multi-storey buildings. The quality of the urban environment there is extremely low. And it is not only about elementary beautification, there are not even playgrounds and shops. In fact, many of these houses are just standing in a field. The problem is also the lack of sufficient connection to utilities”, - believes Frolova. In her opinion, often it would be wiser to connect these areas to the city networks, for example, waterworks, but so far there is no established pattern through which this connection would be possible.

The transport problem is acute, too. “In these microdistricts, no places of employment are created. Accordingly, all of this population take their cars (suburban electric trains are not a comfortable means of transport with us) and go to St. Petersburg. All this creates a huge burden on the transport system, and people lose a lot of time in traffic jams. Ideally, everything should be generally in reverse – first jobs are created, and then a population settlement pattern is created around these places”, - said the expert. Another problem of waste disposal is even more acute. Until now, there is no layout of landfills or recycling facilities between the city and the region. All these objects, of course, will be arranged in the regional territory, which causes a huge discontentment of local residents.

These problems are most typical for those settlements where in the coming years an increase of the population by 20 thousand people or more is expected. In the north of the city it is Murino and Novoye Devyatkino, in the east it is the territory around the Murmansk highway, in the south it is Shushary, Anninskoye settlement and Gorelovo.

The Head of the faction of “Fair Russia” in the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, Alexei Kovalev, said that there are ways out of this crisis. But they can be found only if the regional authorities will agree to prepare territorial development documents together with St. Petersburg. “It may even be an area of not 30, but 50 or even 100 km around the city. The problem of Leningrad Region is that all urban planning is concentrated in municipalities. Around St. Petersburg, there are about 15 general plans and schemes of territorial development, regional or municipal”, - he says.

As a result, it is impossible to calculate the load for any highway – there are several settlements on it’s over length, and each municipality can decide to build high-rise buildings. “It actually reduces to zero the role of the urban plan of St. Petersburg. It is impossible to calculate the infrastructure burden on the peripheral areas of the city, if a large new residential quarter can grow behind any of them”, - said Kovalev.

And this problem is highly relevant. Thus, in 2012 and early 2013, 2.5 million square meters of housing were built around St. Petersburg. “The chaos associated with unregulated urban development activities of municipalities may only be terminated by Leningrad Region. A mechanism, which will allow doing it, exists. This is a territorial scheme of the Region development – the only urban planning document adopted by it as an entity of the Federation”, - says Kovalev. The deputy reminds regional officials that the Russian Federation’s legislation allows specifying on this scheme special “objects of regional significance”. This concept includes both capital construction projects, such as schools, hospitals, roads, and simply territories. In Moscow Region, this legal mechanism is used, according to Kovalev, more effectively. “There, the objects of regional significance are “reorganization areas” and development zones”, “natural and green areas”, and, for example, “common use areas”. That means that Leningrad region can determine which areas on the borders with St. Petersburg may become the development area, and which should remain a green area or recreation area. Thus, the work should be done not through functional zoning, as is currently done in the General Plan of St. Petersburg, but through this list of objects of regional significance”, - believes the deputy.

It turns out that if the legislative assemblies of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region coordinate their efforts on the border between the two entities, such objects of regional significance will be united. “As a result, we’ll have no more situations where behind a recreational area in St. Petersburg an industrial zone in Leningrad Region begins”, - hopes Alexei Kovalev. Then both the development of gardening and the emergence of landfills will be the object of urban planning activities rather than short-term arrangement, as is happening now. “But, alas, I fear that as long as we convince Leningrad Region to do it all, all that is possible will be already built up”, - he complains.

Alexander Perminov, head of the faction of “Fair Russia” in the Legislative Assembly of the 47th region, agrees too with the fact that the objects of regional significance are not detailed enough in the territorial development scheme of Leningrad Region. He believes that the scheme, which was hastily adopted in early 2013, does not consider the interests of suburban areas and has been “made ​​for big business”. In a sense, he goes further than Kovalev and says one does not need to “build a wall” on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, but to develop more remote areas of Leningrad Region.

Parliamentarians agreed to join efforts to solve many problems arising from the chaotic urban development at the border between the two entities. Deputies suggest that executive authorities of both St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region should stop the “urban connivance” and do a certain buffer zone around St. Petersburg, which would allow improving the ecological status of these territories, and would leave space for their future development.

Timofey Tumashevich

Baltic information agency BaltInfo, 27th March 2014, 22:50

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